DHAKA: Garments for Fort Worth-based Dickies were among the US brands found in a Bangladesh apparel plant where 112 workers burned to death and another 200 were injured on November 24, the company confirmed.
Williamson Dickie Mfg Co., a family-owned business founded in 1922, said in a brief statement that it had cut ties with the Bangladeshi firm before the deadly blaze and that it insists on suppliers providing safe conditions.
However, the plant`s safety certificate expired in June and Dickies declined to say when it stopped production there. Workers jumped to their death from the eight-story building because hallways were blocked by bundles of burning fabric, there were no outside fire escapes and fire extinguishers went unused, the BBC quoted fire officials as saying.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with those impacted by the fire at the Tazreen Fashions factory in Bangladesh," Dickies said. The company "concluded our production schedule with this vendor earlier this year."
"It is standard operating procedure at Williamson-Dickie to ensure the global vendors and suppliers we work with provide a safe work environment in accordance with all applicable laws and fair labor practices."
But a labor-rights group asserts that Dickies` record in the Third World is mixed at best, citing interviews with workers in Mexico, Pakistan and Honduras. They spoke of workers standing at sewing machines for 12 hours and of mass firings if workers tried to organize a union. A Dickies contractor, Mexico`s Navarro Group, closed a plant when employees succeeded in voting in a union, according to a report by the non-profit International Labor Rights Forum.
Although its CEO, Philip Williamson, is a clothing industry leader as vice chairman of the American Apparel & Footwear Association, the company has taken a very low profile on the tragedy and plant conditions in general. Misty Otto, a Dickies spokeswoman, declined to say why it left Tazreen or when. "As a privately-held company, we consider any additional information proprietary to our business operations and therefore cannot disclose it," she said in an email.
Although the company said it had ceased dealing with Tazreen, local labor-rights investigators found Dickies-brand jeans in the plant after the fire, said the ILRF, which released photos of the apparel. The Dickies connection to the plant was reported earlier by CNN.
Similarly, Wal-Mart stated that it had stopped doing business with Tazreen, but house-brand goods sewn for the Bentonville, Ark.-based giant retailer were found in the fire-damaged plant, located on the outskirts of Dhaka, the Bangladesh capital. Wal-Mart said a subcontractor sent its orders over to Tazreen contrary to its instructions. Dickies has offered no explanation.
Dickies and another Fort Worth company dependent on Third World labor, Pier 1 Imports, keep confidential details not only about where their merchandise is made but also measures taken to ensure safe working conditions and fair compensation. Both cite competitive reasons for the secrecy. In sharp contrast, companies like Apple and Nike have launched public information campaigns about how they`ve dealt with problems involving Asian contractors, hiring independent monitors.
Over the years, a succession of Pier 1 CEOs said that pay and safety audits at Third World plants were conducted by its own buyers. "That`s a joke since a Pier 1 buyer is trying to get the best deal from suppliers," said Sean Rudolph, an ILRF spokesman. "There`s a clear conflict of interest."
More recently, Pier 1 did hire an independent monitor after the non-profit ILRF named it to its 2010 Sweat Shop Hall of Shame for allegedly suppressing union organizing activities in the Philippines. The monitor, STR Responsible Sourcing, was among the auditing firms that had inspected the Tazreen plant in Bangladesh before the recent fire, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Dickies declined to say how it monitors overseas suppliers.
At a Dickies plant that produces work uniforms in northern Mexico`s Coahuila de Zaragoza free trade zone, a worker told the ILRF that Dickies representatives visited every year on the factory`s anniversary. "I`ve never been aware of any kind of monitoring organization visiting the factory," it quoted the man as saying. "I only know of representatives visiting to check product quality."
The economic advantage of manufacturing in low-cost countries is obvious. Bangladesh garment workers are among the lowest paid in the world, earning a minimum wage of $37 per month. A study conducted for ILRF said workers contracted to sew Dickies apparel in a Pakistan plant made as much as $119 a month working 12 to 14 hours a day, 30 days a month.
Workers are paid on a piece-rate system, which the ILRF report, "Subsidizing Sweatshops," said had not been adjusted in more than a decade. And since the workers are employed by labor subcontractors, not Dickies or the plant, Pakistan`s 48-hour work week with breaks is not applicable, it said.
The ILRF is seeking greater transparency in Dickies` involvement.
"Now that Dickies has confirmed that they have been a buyer at Tazreen, there are a number of questions that Dickies should answer," said Liana Foxvog, director of organizing and communications at ILRF. "Did they ever conduct audits at Tazreen? Why did they leave the factory?
"ILRF calls on Dickies to join the Bangladesh Fire and Building Safety Agreement, and to publicly disclose all their supplier factories and work toward ensuring decent working conditions throughout their supply chain," Foxvog said. "Depending on when Dickies last did business at Tazreen, they should also pay their part of compensation for fire victims` families and injured workers."
BDST: 1540 HRS, DEC 21, 2012
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